Ketchikan puts Fox in freezer

Dec 31, 2001  •  Post A Comment

For TV station production manager Eric Amundson, 36, it’s been a catch-as-catch-can life. He’s been a fisherman, a member of the U.S. armed services and a furniture deliveryman.
Now he’s about to lose his current job because one of only two TV stations serving the scenic community of Ketchikan, Alaska, is about to close its doors.
In February, after the Super Bowl, there will be a little less northern exposure for Fox, as the plug will be pulled on KJMW-TV, the low-power station that has served Ketchikan, population 14,000, since 1994. Tune to channel 25 after Feb. 3, and all you’ll see is snow.
Ketchikan is the southernmost city in the state and a port of call for more than 400 cruise ships making their way up the fabled Inside Passage. The median age of residents is 38, and with an average rainfall of 162 inches, watching television helps pass the time during the long winter.
KJMW, also known as the Ketchikan Channel, is owned by the Pioneer Printing Co., a family-run enterprise that, besides the printing operation, includes a new video-production company and the Ketchikan Daily News, which carried the announcement of the station’s demise in early December.
“No one will be laid off,” said the story. “The one-person TV staff will be reassigned.” That staff-Mr. Amundson-said he would likely primarily do other video-production work for the company.
Co-owner Lew Williams III told the newspaper, “The TV station simply isn’t going to cover its anticipated expenses next year.” After the town’s biggest employer, the Ketchikan Pulp Co., was closed down in 1997, Pioneer had been using attrition to trim the Ketchikan Channel’s staff of seven. Mr. Amundson also used to work at the mill.
“The economy has gone in the pooper since the pulp mill closed,” taking some 500 jobs with it, said one person familiar with the local economic challenges.

How bad is the economy in Ketchikan? Well, consider this: The Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce had two big announcements about the annual Rain Derby this year: Chelsea Woodell won $5,000 with her guess that the annual rainfall for 2000 would be 169.56 inches (the official count was 169.59 inches); and the Chamber would not be sponsoring the contest for 2001 but hoped someone would. “It’s just a tough time,” is all co-owner Tena Williams would tell Electronic Media last week.
She declined to comment further about the business of the station, saying it was a couple of weeks too early. “I still have to talk to Fox about a number of things,” Ms. Williams said.
Steve Strait, whose Straitmedia has represented TV and radio stations and newspapers in rural Alaska for the last five years, said Ketchikan is a “bellwether” for the state.
“The economy is up and down, but it’s certainly not critical,” said Mr. Strait, who added that the main industries are banking and telecommunications, followed by aviation, tourism and energy.
Alaska is not a TV hotbed. Indeed, in many towns outside Anchorage, which is the state’s largest city and the 155th Nielsen market (Ketchikan is 206th), it is not unusual for one station to offer two networks’ programming and for some networks to have no presence at all outside cable. The WB, for example, for which Alaska represents 6 percent of its national coverage, covers the station with The WB 100+ Station Group service it created for hard-to-reach or sparsely populated areas.
In Ketchikan, where Mr. Strait said there are two “healthy radio stations,” KJMW’s TV competitor, KUBD-TV, airs programming from CBS, Pax and various infomercial suppliers (as do its sister stations in Sitka, Anchorage and Fairbanks).
KJMW’s schedule has consisted of Fox’s entertainment, kids and sports lineups, with the other hours filled largely with Fox News content.
At Fox, a spokesman said the network is sad to lose the relationship with Lew, Tena and sister Kathy Williams.
The spokesman also said Fox Net, the national feed that brings Fox entertainment and sports programming to rural areas via cable and satellite, will be used to plug the hole in Ketchikan, where GCI Cable, which serves much of Alaska, offers 56 channels in Ketchikan.
Four of them are occupied now by Fox networks: Fox, Fox News Channel, Fox Family and Fox Sports Net.